Mexican Americans honor Guadalupe, Posadas Navidenas

 THE POINTSETTIA IS a common Christmas flower from Mexico. Photo in public domainMONDAY, DECEMBER 12 & FRIDAY, DECEMER 16:
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe & Beginning of Posadas Navidenas

Mexican Americans are the vital backbone of a reviving Catholic Church in many regions of the United States. Catholic leaders planning for ministry and church growth in this new decade of the 21st Century routinely urge clergy and lay leaders to do one thing: Learn Spanish. Some of the most exciting and colorful expressions of Christianity in the U.S. are imports from the South. This week welcomes two of the most vivid: the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the beginning of Las Posadas, a traditional Latino-American community-wide festival of the birth of Jesus.

Millions of Catholics mark feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

A PROCESSION FOR OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE. Wikimedia Commons.MONDAY, DECEMBER 12: Even the late Pope John Paul II made a personal effort to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, recognizing the powerful inspiration this iconic Catholic story of Mary’s appearance provides for millions across the Americas.

Among the many expressions of this annual holy day: Thousands carry torches in processions or carry copies of the miraculous Guadalupe icon in parades; countless families pray the Ave Maria; and millions will visit Mexico City to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe.


The Guadalupe story attracts so many—popes like John Paul II have said—because it recalls a miraculous connection between God, through Mary’s appearance, and the humblest of the poor in the Americas. According to traditional accounts, Mary imprinted her image on a poor peasant’s cloak, called a tilma, and pilgrims are able to see the miraculous image to this day. Catholic leaders acknowledge that, without the Virgin Mary, Mexico might never have adopted Christianity in such an overwhelming way.

THE ICON OF Our Lady of Guadalupe. Image in public domain.The Catholic story begins on Dec. 9. 1531, when a poor peasant named Juan Diego was walking to Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. While walking, Diego experienced a vision of a young woman dressed like an Aztec princess. (Learn more from CatholicCulture and AmericanCatholic.) This young woman explained that she, the Virgin Mary of the Christian faith and the prime goddess of the Aztec faith, were one and the same. She asked Diego to enlist the local bishop in assistance building a basilica in her honor. When the bishop asked for proof of Diego’s vision, he returned to the place where he’d first seen the young woman, and she pointed to a nearby bush of roses for him to bring to the bishop; when Diego came before the bishop and opened his cloak, the roses fell out and a perfect image of the young woman was miraculously emblazoned on his cloak. The day was Dec. 12, 1531.

In the tragic and turbulent early era of Spanish conquest of the “New World,” efforts to convert native families to Christianity proved largely ineffective. After all, the Spanish newcomers had killed many, enslaved many more and spread diseases that wiped out entire villages. Christianity was a tough sell in such circumstances! It seemed to be a faith reserved for rich and ruthless conquerors. Then, in 1531, news spread of Juan Diego’s miracle and the people in what is today Mexico converted in droves.


Now, almost 500 years later, the cloak and image appear to be in near perfect condition, despite the fact that the course cactus fibers of the cloak should have begun to disintegrate after 20 years. Studies of the cloak supposedly show that the image was made in one stroke, and Mary’s pupils reflect the Indians and clergy present at the time of the revelation of the image. (Wikipedia has details.) It’s also been concluded that, when the image is enlarged, the stars on Mary’s mantle are arranged just as the way they would have appeared in Mexico in the night sky in December of 1531.

Traditions abound today, such as the annual trek from Mexico City to New York that enlists thousands of torch carriers to transport fire to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in time for Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast. (DelawareOnline has a story.) Staying home? Check out AllRecipes’ Top 20 Mexican recipes.

Hispanic communities open doors for 9-day Las Posadas

CHILDREN TACKLE A PINATA FOR LOS POSADAS. WIkimedia.STARTS FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16: Mexican-Americans aren’t the only ethnic group to bring out decorations, serve tasty treats and open their doors in this traditional nine-day period of commuity-wide visiting to remember the birth of Jesus. The roots of Las Posadas lie in Spain and, today in the Americas, the custom is popular in various Hispanic communities. Overall, though, Las Posadas is most vividly associated with Mexican-Americans.

The term Posadas refers to “accommodation,” and the focus is on a nine-day demonstration of hospitality symbolic of the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy and her search with Joseph for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The biblical account of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem is turned into a dialogue re-enacted in doorways of neighbors—often ending with plenty of festive foods served to all.

In one English-language version of the Posadas exchange, a home owner finds a local band of “pilgrims” on the doorstep and initially insists that he has no room to accommodate visitors. Then, the host begins to realize that these are sacred travelers. Finally, his heart opens—along with his doorway—and the host says: “Enter, blessed pilgrims, my house is your own. Praise be to God on the throne! Please come in! Please come in!”

Since Las Posadas fits well in warm climates, this tradition is particularly common in parts of California. This week, Mary’s and Joseph’s trek will be reenacted in elaborate fashion in Escondido, Poway and Old Town San Diego, where the event is the largest in the county. For more than 60 years, the public has been invited to the reenactments and asked to sing Christmas carols, carry candles and follow the procession. (Read more in the NCTimes.)


Inviting guests over to celebrate this Mexican tradition? Try a recipe from MexConnect for bunuelos, festive star-shaped cookies, or for ponche, a hot drink often served at Las Posadas gatherings.


Want to try a Las Posadas liturgy where you live? Here’s a handy, free resource: The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina provides this free-to-download packet on How to Celebrate a Mexican Posadas for Lay Leaders, Musicians and Clergy.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Catholic Christian: Pardon My French, Joan, But …

Joan of Arc’s statue stands in Notre Dame Cathedral, where she was beatified in 1909SUNDAY, MAY 16: It’s been just 90 years since the canonization of Joan of Arc, the young woman who led French troops to victory and was martyred at the tender age of 19. Joan of Arc was excommunicated from the Church prior to being burned at the stake. Ironically, that excommunication was annulled and she was officially declared a martyr just a few decades later—but she didn’t earn sainthood for centuries afterward! (Wikipedia has more on her canonization.) Joan of Arc was beatified at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1909, and then canonized 11 years later by the Roman Catholic Church. St. Joan of Arc’s feast day is May 30.

Joan of Arc was born in 1412 to a peasant-class French family, and family members attest that she was always piously religious. (Gale Cengage Learning dedicates a full page to her life.) From a very young age, Joan says she heard three voices: That of St. Michael, the saint to whom many pray to for help in battle, and those of St. Catherine and St. Margaret, two women who were martyred on behalf of the Church. Although the voices gave general statements at first, they soon came to announce something bigger. In May, 1428—when Joan was 16—she says the saints told her to approach the King of France and help him reconquer his kingdom. During Joan’s life, the King of England coveted the French throne, and Joan said she was given orders to help protect it.

After facing much opposition, then-17-year-old Joan raised the siege of Orleans with a small army in 1429. Joan’s armies continued to taste victory, and during her success, the King of France was able to be crowned. ( has the Catholic perspective.) Just a year later, however, the infamous leader was captured and sold to the English. After enduring months of imprisonment, torture and hunger—from which the King of France did not come to aid her—Joan was tried in court. Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, anticipated rising even further in the Church with the help of the English, and he declared her a heretic on their behalf. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. (Learn about the International Joan of Arc Society here.)

Just one year after her death, the city of Orleans, France, commemorated Joan’s death. Three years later, a religious play dedicated to Joan was performed in Orleans—a tradition that continues, in some places, to this day. (Wikipedia lists the extensive number of places Joan has been featured in cultural history.) Secular historians of the mid-19th century sparked interest in the canonization of Joan, and on May 16 of 1920, more than 30,000 people attended her canonization ceremony in Rome. (Read the official pronouncement here.) More than 140 descendants of Joan of Arc’s family were present at the ceremony.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

Orthodox Christian: St. James & Inspiration In Wales

A plaster cast of St. James, in LondonFRIDAY, APRIL 30: Orthodox Christians honor St. James the Great today, the brother of St. John and the first disciple to die as a martyr. Western Christians celebrate St. James in July. (Orthodox Church in America has more on this saint.) St. James was present at the Transfiguration, along with his brother and St. Peter, and at the Garden of Gethsemane, and so he is greatly honored in the Church. Both James and John were called “sons of thunder,” and many believe they were given this title because of their energetic and bold personalities. (Wikipedia has a detailed biography.) 

After Pentecost, St. James was a preacher in Spain, before returning to Jerusalem. Believers hold that his bones were taken back to Spain, and rest at the Santiago de Compostela. St. James is the Patron Saint of Spain, and Santiago de Compostela is considered the third holiest town within Catholicism. The pilgrimage to Santiago—which spans hundreds of kilometers and is known as “the Way of Saint James”—has been a popular pilgrimage since the Middle Ages. (Sacred Destinations features beautiful photos and lots of information about the site.) The Cross of St. James, too, originated during the Crusades and is also known as the Spanish Cross.

Today, a couple in Wales has been inspired by their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and is in the process of clearing a pilgrimage of their own: the couple hopes to clear a route from Basingwerk to Bardsey Island, a place that is regarded as holding the remains of 20,000 saints. (Read the BBC article here.) Husband Chris Potter, Dean of St. Asaph, draws hope in knowing just how popular the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela has become through the years. While approximately 2,500 pilgrims visited the Spanish site in 1980, more than 250,000 are expected this year.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)